AS SPEAKER of the House of Commons, John Bercow has – to coin his own phrase – been the ‘Backbencher’s Backstop’. He has made it possible for MPs from all parties to hold Ministers to account on a far more frequent basis than they could in the past.
Yet, while his decade in office will, to a certain extent, be seen through the very narrow prism of Brexit, as illustrated by the churlish reaction of some MPs to his announcement that he will stand down on October 31, the day Britain is due to leave the EU, this would be unfair.
In deeply divisive times, Mr Bercow has tried to provide some semblance of order – even if his over-frequent interruptions did become an irritation on many occasions – and he is right to allow existing MPs to elect his successor.
Mr Bercow became Speaker in the wake of the Parliamentary expenses scandal a decade ago and has played a key role in introducing new protocols on transparency to ensure that rules are adhered.
However his tenureship also coincided with growing misgivings about the improper and inappropriate treatment of House of Commons staff, females in particular, by MPs and senior officials.
Yet, while steps are being taken to modernise Parliament’s workplace practices, much more needs to be done and this will be one of the biggest challenges to confront Mr Bercow’s successor. That and a need to overhaul some of the more archaic procedures. For, while many more people now tune into debates than they did prior to Brexit, the majority have little – or no – idea about the rules. That has to be out of order in a 21st century democracy, doesn’t it?